Authors: Cari Moore
Tags: #fiction, #romance, #love, #fear, #hope, #affair, #kidnapped, #confused, #deceived, #boredom, #betrayed, #reconcile, #disillusionment, #tempted, #disillusioned, #seduced
Sighing, Tessa acknowledged him with a weak
smile, but Merritt, in typical enthusiasm, swept her up into a
kiss, a short kiss, but nice, encircling her with his arm and
pulling her close before touching his lips briefly to hers. Just as
quickly, he released her and walked out the door, leaving her
amused and a bit breathless.
He really knows how to make an
, Tessa thought, smiling despite herself. She didn't relish
the chaos his absence would add to the morning routine, but she
couldn't find it in herself to be irritated with him when he acted
Not looking forward to the day's stress,
Tessa nonetheless embarked on her usual rituals, finishing
breakfast for the kids, and since the kids weren’t awake yet, using
the extra time to prepare some things for lunch. Then, having
gotten as much ready as she could, she started cleaning, a futile
exercise in her house where a child could, as a whirlwind, turn a
room from order to bedlam.
She was just about to go awaken the kids
when, in time with her thoughts, she heard squealing tires on the
road beside her house followed by the telltale smashing noises of a
wreck. Checking to make sure her children still slept, Tessa strode
quickly to the end of the pathway in front of her house.
the weirdest morning ever
, she noted, wondering if she needed
to call an ambulance.
As she pondered this, wandering mindlessly
toward the wreckage, the vehicle that had caused the crash suddenly
slammed into reverse and headed off to the highway where it
abruptly sped out of sight. Wrenched to awareness, Tessa quickly
made a mental note of the car’s description and license plates and
rushed over to the other vehicle to see if she could help. As far
as she could tell, no one had exited the car.
So whoever is
inside could be injured or unconscious
, she worried. To her
surprise, however, when she reached the site of the crash, though
only fifty feet from her front door, no one was inside. How this
was possible, she did not know. She didn’t think anyone could have
gotten out without her seeing him.
Glancing helplessly around, Tessa wondered
that no one else seemed to have seen the accident. No neighbors
rushing to the site of the noise, no police sirens blaring in the
distance - a particularly tranquil and quiet dawn. Somehow, despite
the fact that nothing interesting ever happened to Tessa, she
didn't trust the serenity in the air, sensing that beneath the calm
veneer lay an unforeseen disturbance. She shook herself to disperse
the thought. Though the morning air felt cooler than usual, she had
begun to perspire, and since there was nothing she could do to
about the wreck, she headed back inside to call the police. After
she reported all that she had seen, including the license plate
number of the fleeing vehicle, the police thanked her, and soon a
tow-truck removed the physical evidence of the wreck. As soon as it
did, Tessa returned to the usual tedium of her life, wiping the
morning's events from her mind.
Tessa had just finished
chopping the celery to sauté when, o
she heard the,
of her cell phone
Ten o'clock Friday morning.
Time for the weekly call,
Tessa sighed. Though Tessa knew who it was, she still rolled
her eyes when she saw the caller ID: Miranda Miller.
“Good morning, Tessa. This
iller.” Tessa mouthed the words with the voice on the phone.
“I'm calling to invite you to our weekly MomBunch and
“Why, thank you
. I'll try to
“We'll be looking for
assured Tessa. “In fact, we have a new attendee who I think
you would like to meet.”
Despite her usual boredom with the group, the
unexpected assertion from Miranda lured Tessa into engaging the
conversation. “Really? Why is that?”
“Well, I remember that last year when you
joined our group, you spoke of an interest in learning French.”
“One of our new members moved here recently
from Quebec. Though she joined to practice her English, she would
probably appreciate the chance to speak in French on occasion.”
Considering the earlier phone call, this
information seemed entirely more than coincidental. Tessa wracked
her brain for a connection.
“Did you already give her the directory?” The
possibility actually soothed the growing angst that had begun to
disturb Tessa's morning. If the Canadian woman had called the wrong
number out of a directory, then the incident would feel less
“Why, yes,” Miranda admitted, sounding
confused by the seemingly incongruous question. “Why do you
Tessa sighed an internal sigh of relief. At
least one event of the morning had found a resolution. “Oh,
nothing, really. I just received a phone call from a woman who
spoke French. I had thought it extremely odd considering the
sparsity of French speakers who I know.”
“Oh, understandably. She must have dialed the
wrong number from the directory.”
“No doubt. Thanks for clearing up a mystery
“My pleasure,” Miranda gushed, and Tessa
could hear the anticipation in Miranda's tone. Rolling her eyes,
Tessa could predict the next sentence. As if Miranda's small
contribution to Tessa's peace of mind would compel Tessa to accept
an invitation. “So, can I expect you at the meeting? You can meet
It's just another strange
Tessa assured herself. Her
cousin Anne-Laure would never move to the U.S. and would definitely
contact Tessa if she did. “Certainly,” Tessa agreed with Miranda
offhandedly. “I can't wait. Until tomorrow, then.”
“Until tomorrow! I'm looking forward to
Tessa didn't like to lie, but seriously, she
had no desire to sit around and listen to everyone gush about which
Baby Einstein her child had mastered. Though she adored her
children, Tessa knew she was lucky to get shoes on her kids before
she walked out the door, much less have them cleaned and wearing
matching clothes, and though she read to her children regularly,
no, her three-year-old did not yet read.
she complained internally,
I think these playgroups are really a child beauty
For his part, Merritt
wanted Tessa to attend the group. Ostensibly, according to Merritt,
Tessa needed to get out more, engage with other moms. “It's not
good for you to be such a recluse,” he asserted every time she
complained about the weekly call. “You should go.” Of course, he
had another, less magnanimous reason for her to attend: the local
moms were a good source of networking. “
You never know when their husbands or families or friends
might offer access to something that we need,”
he always insisted. Tessa considered such reasons a
Machiavellian motive for
. Of course,
Merritt had never hesitated to judge Tessa for her idealism, an
easy task for someone so married to his own success.
When Tessa thought about
it, though, she still felt terrible about lying to Miranda because
she genuinely liked the woman. It took a lot of courage for
calling Tessa when every week garnered a new rejection. Regardless,
Tessa's guilt would not compel her to subject herself to the tedium
of the group. Replacing the phone on the receiver, Tessa turned
back to her celery.
After an hour, Sophie awoke and walked into
the kitchen from the hallway, rubbing her eyes with her dimpled
hands. Her yellow curls bounced idyllically up and down, framing
her face in a golden halo. Tessa loved those golden curls, so
incongruous with her parents' straight, brown locks. For the first
year of her life, people would often comment on Tessa's adorable
“niece.” Little did they know that Tessa's hair, though straight,
had rivaled Sophie's golden hue for the first eight years of
Tessa's life. Only in adulthood had Tessa's hair darkened to it's
current brunette shade.
“Hi, Mommy,” Sophie greeted her
mother. With abandon, the little girl stumbled to Tessa, raising
her arms for an embrace. Tessa, of course, could not
“Hello, princess,” Tessa reached down
and scooped her daughter into her arms, kissing her
silken skin and inhaling the powdery
scent of her hair. “Are your brothers awake?”
“Alex is standing in his bed, but
Michael is still sleeping. You need to go get Alex before he wakes
his brother,” Sophie insisted administratively.
“Well, yes, ma'am,” Tessa teased, and
rose obediently to retrieve the infant who had just begun to squeal
in protest at his imprisonment. Though he as yet had little hair,
Alex seemed destined to wear a deep russet brown coif, though his
nascent fuzz already spoke of curls. Michael, on the other hand,
had a muss of straight brown hair, plain by comparison, but Michael
had other assets in his favor. Like Tessa's brother, Mike, Michael
had large, round, soulful eyes that just twinkled with a hint of
mischief. No one who saw little Michael would notice the
unremarkable tresses on his head, so enraptured would they feel
with his eyes. Thinking about her children brought a smile to
Tessa's lips, a marked relief from the ennui that usually painted
her monotonous existence.
As Sophie had predicted, Michael began to
stir, and Tessa glided over to his bed, Alex on her hip, to lead
Michael by the hand to the breakfast table.
At noon, Liset arrived to help Tessa with the
children, and Tessa began again to tap away on her computer. Liset
constituted an attempt on Merritt’s part to provide relief for
Tessa, a chance to pursue more fulfilling activities than laundry
and diapers. A student from Spain, Liset had come to them a few
weeks before. Liset had spent the last several months waiting
tables in a restaurant, so Tessa felt that by offering a better
option, she provided a step up for Liset. Many intelligent European
students sought the kind of employment Tessa provided Liset - and
Liset was a godsend for Tessa.
Until Liset had come to work for the Wilsons,
Tessa had felt trapped at home, unwilling to take her three young
children anywhere where they might break something, which was
everywhere. Also, Tessa had to entertain, feed, change, help, and
teach all three of them with almost no physical assistance from
Merritt. She had to be available twenty-four hours every day
without a break.
Liset served as a
substitute for Merritt, perhaps an attempt to alleviate his guilt
for not helping, himself.
Tessa corrected herself.
Merritt has never experienced guilt for anything.
Instead, he tended to feel gratified by his
self-proclaimed contributions: he made the money that allowed him
to hire somebody to do his part of the grunt work.
Though Tessa occasionally felt a twinge of
resentment -she wished he would actually break a sweat himself to
help on occasion - she had long ago given over dwelling on her
sense of abandonment. If she had lived her life angry at Merritt,
her vague dissatisfaction would have amplified into a hopeless
sense of disillusionment. Even with her rigorous attempts to manage
her thoughts, she sometimes approached the realm of the
disillusioned. True, Merritt worked hard to provide for his family,
and many men did not. Tessa could not know for sure, though, that
his family garnered much consideration in his dedication to work.
Success, accolades, rewards, admiration: Merritt had never failed
to receive ample motivation to excel at his work. How could Tessa -
overworked, needy, and out of her comfort zone - ever compete with
such an environment. When Merritt walked in her door, he saw all
her failures, and she reflected him. If she failed, then he had
failed, and he could not countenance failure in his life.
Everything about her reminded him of his lacking. Why would he ever
enjoy her? If she let herself dwell on the thought, fear would
overtake her, but Tessa had never let herself succumb to fear.
Trying to see the bright side, Tessa forced
herself through disciplined rationality to admit that the
arrangement Merritt had devised worked fairly well. Thanks to
Liset, Tessa could offer dedicated time to each individual child,
uninterrupted by complaining siblings because Liset could handle
any arising need. A smart, pretty, and very capable girl, Liset
spent hours pushing the kids in the swing, all the while teaching
them Spanish songs and quizzing them on basic science. At those
times when Liset taught, Tessa took care of the more menial needs
of the children. When Tessa needed to focus intensely on one child,
the brainless tasks became Liset’s.
Raising her eyes to the
door, Tessa tried to reign in her enthusiasm for Liset's entrance
lest she frighten the woman away
morning had seemed unusually stressful, and after the kids had
woken up, and with breakfast already cooked, the regular morning
routine had finished much earlier than normal. As a result, Sophie
and the boys had spent hours with nothing specific to do, i.e.
Tessa must entertain them. As soon as Liset walked through the
door, the children mobbed her, demanding the treat which she often
brought. Liset laughed, but replied by walking directly to the
kitchen and taking over lunch preparations from Tessa. She abruptly
informed the children that they had to eat their “growing food